Khimki Creeping: Does Moscow Have Another Contender?

Khimki Creeping: Does Moscow Have Another Contender?


By: Rob Scott / @robscott33

This week’s Euroleague headlines mainly focused on Bobby Brown’s record-equalling one-man show and Caja Laboral’s takedown of Maccabi Tel Aviv. But before all of that, in Thursday’s (very) early game, BC Khimki Moscow quietly sliced through Regal FC Barcelona by 78-65 as if it were just business as usual.

Which it was, at least on the outskirts of Moscow, where the home team is now a perfect 12-0 between Euroleague and VTB League play.

Almost unnoticed, they are creeping up on this year’s Euroleague, barely mentioned along with CSKA, Real Madrid, Olympiacos Barcelona or even Zalgiris Kaunas as genuine contenders. Perhaps they aren’t at that stage just yet, but this game was the latest suggestion that they are being undervalued, other than by ELA’s own esteemed editor, that is.

The World In Motion

The crisp motion offence that coach Rimas Kurtinaitis has installed hasn’t always clicked like it did on Thursday but when it does, there are few more satisfying things to watch in this year’s competition. The ball fizzed around the perimeter with multiple screens and cuts on almost every possession. They have a multi-faceted offence that combines this collective motion-oriented approach with a highly effective transition game and big man depth to rival most elite contenders.

Zoran Planinic uses his height (1.99 m) not primarily to post up but to see over the defense as he uses his crafty flashiness to skip into the lane. He isn’t a three point threat, shooting 3-of-22 in Euroleague this year, but he is converting at the rim at a 68.9 percent clip and 47.2 perecnt from midrange, putting him in the elite for Euroleague point guards at 60.8 percent from two, behind only another tall point guard, Dimitris Diamantidis. His 9.9 assists per 100 possessions is second only to 3D and he’s also second overall in minutes per game, behind Bobby Brown.

Stealth MVP?

These are the bare numbers behind a stealth MVP campaign that will only pick up steam the further Khimki goes. Planinic’s leadership on the floor, and his ability to constantly move the ball to the right place is reflected in the statistics but they don’t tell the whole story. An offence built on not one, or two but three or four picks, cuts and passes per possession couldn’t function without a player this intelligent at the helm, and he seems to have taken a step up this season in most aspects of his game.

Alongside Planinic in the backcourt, Petteri Koponen and Vitaliy Fridzon are both athletic, nimble players who can get into the lane and finish without having to get to the rim. Fridzon tortured Barcelona by using simple pin down screens to free himself for short jumpers and Koponen contorted his body to make room for a series of pull-ups from close range that kept the score ticking over. Fridzon’s pull up three in transition would have been called reckless had it not gone in, but on Thursday even the fast break seemed to run as if it were pre-programmed, the yellow-clad components all working in synchronisation.

Going Deep Upfront

Aside from Planinic, the most impressive aspect of this roster is its big man rotation. James Augustine and Paul Davis were too much to handle for Barcelona’s once formidable frontline, with Davis scoring easily against Nathan Jawai in the post and Augustine proving what an intelligent player he is passing and cutting around the high post.

Of the Khimki bigs, only Sergey Monya has real three-point range, although Aleksey Zhukanenko did hit a rare triple and finished with 10 points on 3-of-5 overall as he diligently moved into the gaps provided by superb spacing and ball movement from others. Davis wasn’t known as an elite post presence when he signed  with Khimki but it looks like he has rapidly improved in this respect.

Tomic Can’t Take It

One play towards the end of the third period summed up what it was like for Barcelona to face this kind of unprecedented inability to stop their opponent from scoring. Planinic used Monya’s high screen, dribbled to the left wing and reversed the ball back to Augustine, who had taken Monya’s spot at the top of the arc. Augustine handed off to Rivers, cutting from the opposite wing, setting up the instant high screen-and-roll. The play was broken up by Tomic, but Augustine beat Wallace to the loose ball, recycled it back out to Rivers, who passed to Planinic, who drove and kicked to Koponen stepping into a three.

Swish.

Tomic yelled out in pure frustration, unable to do anything else but release his anger at another extra pass and another score from the Russians.

Rob Scott writes ‘Switching Screens’ every week for ELA. He also writes for Euro-step.net and The Basketball Post. Follow him on Twitter @robscott33.